The UK government has reinforced its commitment to the enhancement of automated vehicle technology by announcing ambitious plans that could see some autonomous features added to vehicles as early as Spring 2021.
An initial consultation is to take place investigating the use of Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS), which are designed to keep drivers safe within their lanes even at higher speeds.
Should the consultations prove positive, this could then lead to changes to the Highway Code and implementation within the UK’s legal systems by early 2021.
ALKS are designed to keep a vehicle placed safely within a carriageway lane even at speeds of up to 70 mph, though it is anticipated that early trials will focus very much on specific use cases and driving scenarios at lower speeds.
Any way to mitigate road risk could prove beneficial on multiple fronts – as well as the obvious safety considerations and reduction in accidents, there would of course be a reduction of accident-related injuries and even the potential for car and van insurance premium reductions.
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The automated system would aim to safely keep a car in its lane, while promoting the driver to take charge when necessary. At this stage, this technology is focused very much on lane safety rather than fully autonomous driving and would effectively begin to shift responsibility for vehicle safety away from the driver and towards the provider of the technology.
The ALKS technology received formal approval in June 2020 courtesy of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), paving its way for introduction to the public by early to mid-2021.
The UK is hoping to be one of the very first countries in the world to transition the technology to public road vehicles, furthering the nation’s commitment to enhancing safety across all areas of motoring and transport.
The government’s Transport Minister, Rachel Maclean, emphasised that the UK’s role in the area of autonomous driving technologies is “world leading”, adding that she believes that such advancements will lead to “safer, smoother and easier” driving for UK motorists.
The potential for accident reduction is huge, with close to 50,000 accidents and 4,000 deaths caused by poor lane driving possibly avoided over the next decade.
Motor trade plate insurance could also potentially come down in price, with heavy mileage trade users a key consumer group that could benefit from the introduction of new, safe driving technologies.
Following the initial consultation, the Department for Transport will launch a second round of discussions later in 2020, with any member of the motor trade or public urged to step forward and submit their thoughts or concerns. Evidence from both rounds of talks and consultations will be released by the end of the year.